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Oregon Trails: Crossing the Greensprings

By Ron Brown

NEAR ASHLAND, Ore. — From the time the first settlers wrestled their way over the Applegate Trail into Southern Oregon, getting over the Greensprings Mountain Pass was a major struggle. It wasn’t until the early 20th century, when the state of Oregon went on a highway-building binge, did the mountain pass between Ashland and Klamath Falls become passable year-round.

Up until Highway 140 was completed between Klamath Falls and White City in the 1960′s, Highway 66 was the main highway between the Rogue Valley and Klamath Basin. Today, it’s mostly a scenic two-lane highway that climbs steeply out of the Rogue Valley to the Greensprings plateau before easing down into the Klamath Basin at Keno and into Klamath Falls. But it wasn’t always that way. Following closely the route of an early wagon and stage road that was a difficult route at best, in 1919 the newly created Oregon Highway Department began work on a new highway to be called the Ashland-Klamath Falls Highway.

This time the grade was not to exceed 6%; that meant carving a windy route along steep, rocky hillsides heading down into the rogue valley. Quite different from the old wagon road! On the Klamath side it connected with Highway 97, then known as the Dalles-California Highway, just west of Klamath Falls. And with the construction came new settlement on the summit. Communities like Pinehurst and Lincoln, and rest stops called “White Star”, “King Cole”, and the Summit Ranch, which is still here and for sale and the Pinehurst Inn, which for years was a popular traveler’s stop on the road from Ashland to Klamath Falls.

“The first floor was just above the Creek. And in 1951 when we had a flood here, the flood inundated the lower floor,” says Ray Ashcraft, who grew up on Greensprings, “But this was also the stop for the Greyhound bus. And it was quite a business done right here. And the upper floors had rooms that they would rent out, and the lower floors was rented out.”

The inn mysteriously burned to the ground in the early 1970′s. Across the road is the current Pinehurst Inn, now a bed and breakfast. Construction of the highway caused a lot of interest, especially on the windy Rogue Valley side of the summit, where large rocky bluffs meant blasting the side hill rock away. Ashcraft says a particularly big cut here drew large crowds to the old road down below to watch the demolition.

“People came out from Ashland to line this road to watch this particular blast,” says Ashlcraft, “and it was a long about then that they went from black powder to the more powerful dynamite. And so when the people were down here on this road and they blasted this off, they had some kind of VW-sized boulders that went off down there and they thought they were going to actually get, landed-on with these boulders.”

Today, it’s a gravel pit along the road, with high fencing to discourage the trash dumpers. But the steep, windy road has also taken its toll of cars and trucks, including this 60-plus year old Oldsmobile that tumbled down here more than 50 years ago. It was a tragedy memorialized by the old wreck still here among the oaks where it’s been since the 50′s.

“The maintenance foreman for the highway up here found this man in this car, and he said he had made entries on the dash board,” said Ashcraft. “And he had been pinned in there, for 9 days, and Caroll Converse found him the 10th day and he was dead. So, he lived in this thing for 9 days pinned in there and making entries on the dashboard.”

A popular stopping spot on the Greensprings for many years has been Tub Springs State Park, near where the Applegate Trail crossed the Summit.

For generations, even before the auto age, Tub Springs was a popular place. ‘Course, it wasn’t known as Tub Springs when the wagon first came through. That name came with the building of these decorative stone tubs here. But still remain a popular spot on the Greensprings Highway; especially for those who come to fill their water jugs.

In the late 50′s, when Emigrant Lake flooded the old Klamath Junction near Ashland and forced a re-routing of the highway, you can still see signs of the road dipping in and out of emigrant lake. Some are used as boat ramps! The post office that was at Pinehurst was originally named “shake”, probably because of a shake or shingle mill that was in the area in the 1880′s.